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Secondary matchups a primary concern for Patriots

With Jalen Mills landing on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, the Patriots could be shorthanded at cornerback against one of the deepest wide receiver corps in the NFL.

20220112_PDC_Jackson_Adler

The Patriots placed Jalen Mills on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday, putting the veteran's status in question for Saturday's AFC Wild Card playoff. Mills missed just one game this season, Week 5 against the Texans with a hamstring injury, but has otherwise been a solid presence across from J.C. Jackson this season.

It wasn't all bad news though, as Myles Bryant was removed from the COVID list after missing all of practice last week as well as the game against Miami. The team also added cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc to their practice squad in a move that signalled how dire things are getting at cornerback for the team as they enter the playoffs.

LeBlanc entered the league as an undrafted rookie with the Patriots in 2016 before getting cut and joining the Bears. He's played 52 career NFL games with three different teams, and spent training camp this season with the Dolphins, then most of the regular season on the Texans practice squad. He has NFL experience, but is he ready to jump right back into the Patriots system after five years away?

If Mills is unable to play it will be a significant blow to a Patriots secondary that has been thinned this season with Jonathan Jones on Injured Reserve, as well as Shaun Wade on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. New England will likely have some tough decisions to make when it comes to matching up with the Bills deep bevy of receiving threats.

Table inside Article
Bills WRCatchesYardsTDsPatriots CBTargetsCompletionsCompletion %
Stefon Diggs103122510J.C. Jackson1065249.1%
Cole Beasley826931*Jalen Mills653756.9%
Emmanuel Sanders426264Myles Bryant423071.4%
Gabriel Davis355496Joejuan Williams181055.6%
Isaiah McKenzie201781**D'Angelo Ross3266.7

Bryant and the practice squadders D'Angelo Ross, who dressed last week, and LeBlanc are more in the inside slot corner mold, while another practice squad player, De'Vaunte Bausby has 26 NFL starts and better size at 6-2, but has yet to play a game this year.

That could mean Joejuan Williams could be elevated into the biggest role of his career at outside cornerback. Williams has played 35 percent of the defensive snaps this year, including 35 snaps, the second-highest game total of his career, against Houston this season when Mills was out. However, Williams has never played more than 36 defensive snaps in a game and would be in uncharted territory if asked to play the entire game against one of the most lethal offenses in the NFL.

With J.C. Jackson expected to take Stefon Diggs and Bryant likely to match up on Cole Beasley in the slot, the Patriots will have to manage how they use Williams and/or the practice squad players to deal with Emmanuel Sanders and the ascending Gabriel Davis, not to mention fifth receiver Isaiah McKenzie who had a career game against the Patriots the day after Christmas.

The depth at cornerback was already thin going into this matchup and after Tuesday's roster moves, the questions are piling up at the wrong time of year.

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